One of my favorite pictures of my son is one from when he was about three or four. He was in a serious Toy Story phase of life and we had bought him a four foot puzzle of Buzz Lightyear. The picture is an overhead shot that I took of him as he lay flat on the floor next to the puzzle pointing to the sky in imitation of his hero. He is wearing his Buzz Lightyear pajamas and a smile of sheer unadulterated joy.
"Unadulterated" is the perfect word. Even though the Latin roots for "adult" and "adulterated" aren't really the same... they are the similar. "Adult" comes from the Latin "adultus"... to grow... where as "adulterated" comes from "adulteratus"... or to change. To "adulterate" something, Webster tells us, is to corrupt, debase or make something impure by the addition of a foreign substance. So to be "unadulterated" is to be pure. And what better way is there to describe the difference between the wide-eyed awe of childhood to the jadedness that many feel as they age.
Most boys (and many girls too) grow up with fantasies of having special powers. Super powers. Be it strength, the ability to fly, laser bolt eyes, invisibility, or just a belt with really cool gadgets on it... all of my friends wanted one. To be able to stand up to the bad guys on the playground. To be looked at as special and super. To have people whisper with awe when you walked into a room. I mean, really... what is cooler than a guy in tights.
Over time it happens to them all... they grow. And the boys become young men and slowly the world of expectations encroaches on their fantasies... diluting them. Adulterating them. The spandex gets hung away in favor of other super suits... in my son's case, hockey goalie pads. Dreams of living in the Super Friend's Headquarters replaced by dreams of playing in the NHL. And while that is a little more realistic, it isn't by much. Don't get me wrong, I won't discourage the dream. But I know the odds... and so does he, really. He knows the pads don't make him invincible. He has won games... but he has also lost enough to know that they good guys don't always win. And each goal that he lets by further distills the purity of that smile in that picture.
The other day he was in the store and I caught him looking at a large display of Toy Story stuff in anticipation of both the original and sequel's re-release in theaters... (and in 3D!) There was a wistful look on his face. A memory of the forgotten past. A smile. I wanted to tell him that he doesn't need a super suit to be special. But me telling him, won't make him believe it. He needs to discover it himself. I pray that he does, before the world encroaches and makes him doubt. That is the wish of every parent.
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